Adapted from a white paper first published by the Christian Economic Forum in 2022, entitled Breaking The Cycle Of Poverty In Africa Through Large-Scale Ventures.
My first trip to Africa was in January 2013, when I was 41 years old. I had just sold my business in the US and was preparing for a more relaxed lifestyle involving family time, financially supporting global missions, doing business-advisory work, and working some golf into my schedule. I’d worked hard for the last few years to successfully complete the earnout portion of the sale of my company, so I was ready for a new chapter. I had no idea that God had a very different plan in store for me.
Our family had been supporting an orphan rescue ministry in the capital city of Addis Ababa, and so I took a trip to Ethiopia. I expected to be sobered by their difficult circumstances and encouraged to give more money toward the ministry. The result was quite different than expected, however. What I discovered was that some of the children in the orphanage had two living parents as well as living siblings. This was quite different from my experience of the orphan and adoption system in the US, which is largely populated by unwanted pregnancies and severely broken families. The reality in Ethiopia was that the parents of these children felt so burdened by their own joblessness and bleak hope for the future that they gave their kids up to the government orphanage to take care of them.
It was this experience, my own entrepreneurial background, and the growing business opportunities in Ethiopia that precipitated my decision to launch Verdant Frontiers. Our mission as stated today is to “build large-scale businesses to create compelling investor returns and life-changing jobs in Africa.” Advancing economic development in areas that need it desperately is where the problem of unemployment can be solved, and this solution to poverty at scale is best provided by thriving businesses with a servant leadership mission at their core.
For example, for the majority of the workers on our farms in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Zambia, their job with Verdant is the first job they or any of their ancestors have ever had. The difference for these families who previously lived in extreme poverty is dramatic – especially for the children. In most rural African communities where our businesses are located, children will drop out of school once they are able to generate an income for their families, which typically is around 10 to 13 years old. They do this to provide immediate support and relief for their families, but it leaves them without the education to escape the same cycle of poverty that has gripped their family for generations.
The workers on our farms now have the ability to sustain their families, allowing their children to complete their schooling and develop the skills necessary to become successful themselves – breaking of the cycle of poverty for future generations.
Pathias in Zambia has experienced this process firsthand. Now one of the two senior supervisors on our farm there, Pathias came from a very remote area of Macha. Desperate for work and having no real income for a few years, he applied for a position at the farm. He has worked so diligently over the years that he has been promoted multiple times and has managed to not only purchase a piece of land and build a home for his family, but also to pay for his children’s schooling and further education. His two oldest daughters have both been qualified as teachers. His one son joined him in working on the farm for a year and a half and is now studying at the University of Zambia, while his other son is currently employed on the farm and awaiting his acceptance into the university. In one generation, because of the presence of a new business in their community, Pathias has broken the cycle of poverty.
A husband and wife, Ivy and Sepiso, have also escaped extreme poverty though employment on the farm. They now have their own home and have built two additional homes to earn extra rental income, and their two children are completing their school education.
Having the privilege of meeting some of these people whose lives have been changed for the better and who can now see hope for future generations reinforces my goal to allow God to work through me in facilitating the livelihoods of others. As Ephesians 4:28 states: “…rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
A beautiful cultural aspect in many regions where we operate businesses is that people see the well-being of the broader community as part of their responsibility, so they tend to be very willing to help others who are in need, multiplying the blessing of their economic advancement. And so every job created in a place where very few existed previously, represents the potential for not only one life to change – but for a family, and a whole community, to break the cycle of poverty.
Scott Friesen is a serial entrepreneur with a 20-year track record of venture growth and profitability, including three successful exits of US tech and media ventures. After his last exit, rather than retiring, he felt called to start Verdant Frontiers in 2013 and plans to spend the rest of his career building ventures to create life-changing jobs in Africa. To date, Scott and his team have launched ten ventures with a combined value of over $200 million in the agricultural, real estate, consulting, and hospitality sectors.